UK Cypriots George and Areti Nicolaou have set up a charity to try to help and protect as many children as they can from the negative impact of social media misuse, harmful online content and cyber bullying.
The couple, from Waltham Cross, set up the Christoforos Charity Foundation – www.CCFworld.org – in memory of their beloved son Christoforos (known as Christopher), who sadly took his own life in March 2022. The 15-year-old had unknowingly became caught up in forums on the dark web that gave him challenges he was threatened to follow. He was found unconscious at his home.
Deceptively, these types of websites appear harmless, which is precisely how it hooks in children and vulnerable young people. There are however, far darker and dangerous dimensions to these sites. And sadly, all too often, children can stumble into them unknowingly, not recognising them as being harmful – and on occasion, can soon be drawn and enticed deeper into them with persuasive, addictive temptations such as free online gaming being offered.
Christopher’s parents are urging families to recognise signs their children are in danger from online predators and hope that their charity will encourage teenagers to access activities away from social media.
In a special report on ITV news, George explained how his son, who was a well-liked child and loved sports, changed his attitude and behaviour in the last 40 to 50 days of his life. He said he became extremely quiet, not very active, and “seemed that he was suffering with a lot of fear, like someone had made threats to him.”
It was only after Christopher’s death that George and Areti discovered the horrific messages he had been sent from strangers on social media, with one person having spent days telling him to try ending his life, with their last message chillingly asking: “Are you dead?”
Now on the first anniversary of Christopher’s death, George says his goal is to raise awareness and to inspire and encourage children and young adults to engage in activities outside of social media and the internet. Every penny raised through the charity will go towards such activities.
“Christopher didn’t take his own life, his life was taken,” George said.
“We can’t get our son back, but we really believe we can help prevent this from happening to other people’s children,” Areti added.
The Christoforos Charity Foundation offers advice to children to limit their time online:
- Use an app to track how much time you spend on social media each day. Then set a goal for how much you want to reduce it by.
- Turn off your phone at certain times of the day, such as having dinner with your family, spending time with offline friends, or playing with board games with your parents.
- Don’t take your phone with you to the bathroom.
- Don’t bring your phone or tablet to bed.
- Turn devices off and leave them in another room overnight to charge.
- Disable social media notifications. It’s hard to resist the constant buzzing, beeping, and dinging of your phone alerting you to new messages. Turning off notifications can help you regain control of your time and focus.
- Limit checks. If you’re compulsively checking your phone every few minutes, wean yourself off by limiting your checks to once every 30 minutes. Then once every 40 minutes, then once an hour. There are apps that can automatically limit when you’re able to access your phone.
- Try removing social media apps from your phone so you can only check Facebook for example and the like from your tablet or computer. If this sounds like too drastic a step, try removing one social media app at a time to see how much you really miss it.
For more information and advice, visit www.CCFworld.org
If you have been affected by any of these issues, you can contact the Samaritans 24 hours a day on 116 123. Samaritans provides round the clock support for people when they need it most. They also have tips if you’re concerned about someone you know, and advice if you’re struggling yourself – visit www.samaritans.org